Edition 78: Samhain 1 May 2015
What Herb is That?
Arnica earns amazing rap
ARNICA’S reputation found centre stage when 18th Century German poet and philosopher Goethe claimed the humble herb saved his life when he was struck down with an uncontrollably high fever.
“Rejuvenated in my recovery I praise (arnica) most highly,” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “yet in truth it is nature who praises herself, she who is truly inexhaustible, who creates this flower with its healing powers, and in doing so once more proclaims herself to be eternally procreative.”
The alpine herb has a long history of use in the folk medicine of Russia and the Swiss Alps. Eclectic physicians 19th and 20th Centuries used arnica for contusions, bruised muscles, painful breasts, chronic sores and abscesses.
The arnica herb was known as the herb of Freya and strewn in the wheat fields at midsummer to protect the crops from the Norse demon Bilwis, and to protect the grains vital energy, (called the ‘grain-wolf’) from escaping.
It was one of the nine sacred midsummer herbs and was also used as incense for weather magic. Arnica has a long history of use among Native Americans as a major healing plant and also as a tobacco substitute.
Great addition to the first aid kit
The amazing arnica is a herb that has earned its reputation for dramatic healing properties, especially in more modern times for treating injuries and bruises. It is usually the first remedy to be given after a fall or accident when there is muscle strain or injury. In fact any injury involving contusion or fracture will respond positively to instant attention with this well-known traditional medicine; that, when applied directly, will significantly minimise the effects of tissue trauma.
Antibiotic, anti-inflammatory pain reliever
Arnica in oil or cream form is very helpful for treating arthritis, painful joints, and muscle exhaustion from over-exertion, making it the herb of choice for herbal sports medications.
Research studies on competitors in the 1990 Norwegian marathon found that applying arnica to the skin before an athletic event reduced pain and stiffness after the event.
It also works effectively on the skin for burns, ulcers, eczema, and acne because its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties reduce pain and swelling while enhancing the healing of wounds. It may be applied for septic conditions such as painful recurrent boils.
It has been used for unbroken chilblains, carpal tunnel syndrome and some limited use in hair tonics and dandruff preparations to treat alopecia. Use the oil or cream on irritated insect bites.
Arnica’s homeopathic version is considered the first port of call for both before and after surgery to reduce post operative swelling, reduce shock to the body and shorten the duration of recovery time. This also applies to plastic surgery with impressive results. A lesser-known use for arnica is to help quell altitude sickness.
ARNICA is available in several forms; as a herbal infused oil that is used alone or in creams and gels, or it is available in homeopathic pillules or cream.
An arnica tincture is also made from the whole fresh plant including the root.
Arnica is one of the most important homeopathic medicines and is used in a 3:1 dilution for motion sickness and in a 10:1 dilution for seizure disorders.
Used as an infusion (approximately one teaspoon dried herb in half cup water), tincture (approximately one part herb to 10 parts alcohol), oil (one part dried herb in five parts plant oil) or ointment (one part arnica oil to four to five parts base).
How it works
Arnica’s anti-inflammatory properties are principally due to its sesquiterpene lactones.
These anti-inflammatory actives speed up the healing process in bruised and injured tissue by dispersing waste-bound fluids and moving cleansing fluids and platelets into the affected area. (Blood platelets are the cells involved in the clotting process.) By blocking the actions of pro-inflammatory cytokines, arnica can then mop up the inflammatory debris and lactic acid.
The reversal of the effects of pain-causing prostaglandins means that arnica successfully reduces swelling and relieves pain after injury and muscle strain.
Peak Euro authority approves
Arnica is approved for use by the “Commission E” for external use in injury and for the consequences of accidents, for example, haematoma, dislocations, contusions, oedema due to fracture, rheumatic muscle and joint pain. (Commission E is the German equivalent of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration, that gives scientific expertise for the approval of substances and products previously used in traditional, folk and herbal medicine.)
Arnica for childbirth
Arnica contains compounds that act in the same manner as oxytocin (Pitocin), a drug used to induce labour and for this reason; pregnant women should not use arnica. However, this need not apply at the beginning of labour, when arnica will admirably prepare the body for the strains of giving birth by helping the muscles function effectively.
Directly after childbirth, the popular homeopathic remedy can be mightily helpful to relieve bruising and speed up healing.
Many midwives recommend that arnica oil be added to a sitz-bath for the postnatal treatment of episiotomy stitches or tears once the skin is sealed to speed up healing.
Latin Name: Arnica Montana
Family: Asteraceae/Compositae The genus Arnica comprises of fifty or so species of perennial rhizomatous herbs with simple leaves and daisy-like flowers. Many are medicinally viable, but here we deal with arnica montana, the most common.
Common names: Bruisewort, leopard's bane and wolf's bane, mountain tobacco, or "smoke-herb"
The Plant: Arnica is a graceful woodland plant in the same family as the sunflower with bright yellow flowers that are collected at summer’s end; the flower and rhizome are both used in herbal medicine. The dried flowers are fluffy and fibrous, and can be irritating to the nose if handled improperly. The entire plant has a strong and distinct pine-sage smell when the leaves of mature plants are rubbed or bruised. Arnica grows in the mountains of Europe, Siberia, Canada and the northern United States and is cultivated in northern India.
Precautions: Arnica is generally safe when taken externally, however the cream or tincture should not be used externally on broken skin, or an open wound, while not dangerous; it could cause a cause irritation. It is sometimes advised to use it only for a few weeks at a time if sensitive skinned. Avoid the topical forms if you have an allergy to daisy plants such as chamomile or marigolds. Only homeopathic preparations of arnica are recommended for internal use. Ingesting large amounts of the herb or roots can be poisonous. Arnica is excellent for hemorrhagic tendencies but should not be used in patients who are on blood-thinning medication, as this may increase the likelihood of bleeding.
The Mystical Cauldron
PRESIDING over a prominent shrine–like hearth inside the Tinderbox shop in Balingup, there stands a large black cauldron.
Yes, it is what it looks like; a large metal vessel for cooking, and rather evocative of magic, but it represents so much more than that.
This unmistakable three-legged pot-bellied shape seems to belong on the central hearth there; after all it is a mystical icon that has been around human consciousness for a very long time, inspiring myriad numinous imagery.
The iconic cauldron has its roots in multiple ancient cultures that shared the same reverence for its inherent magical powers of being able to provide for all.
Imagine how precious the simple iron pot would have been to early cultures, who would been passed this sacred vessel down their clan lines to ensure them a bountiful future.
All would gather around the central feature of the iron pot; it represented the welcoming warmth of the hearth, fragrant food and sustenance for survival and the comfort of feminine energy that usually resided there.
Pot of mistaken ill repute
For starters, the cauldron represented Home, because it usually sat on a blazing fire in the hearth; the symbol for the living centre of the family, the community and the nation – even though we no longer depend on it as we once did for warmth, light, protection and the cooking of food.
Modern day fiction may have maligned the cauldron by portraying it as an accessory to erroneous notions of witchcraft and other shenanigans of sorcery; however it has far more noble origins that these puerile depictions.
The Wiccan traditions adopted the cauldron as a symbol of mystery whereby the Cauldron Mysteries are an integral part of the Wiccan Mythos.
The cauldron isn’t about concocting evil spells but it represents the means and the place of restoring strength, regeneration and even of restoring to life, in other words profound biological change.
In Greek mythology the Witch goddess Medea restored people to youth in a magic cauldron.
Some relate the cauldron to the Holy Grail (since the Grail is supposedly the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper), and speculate this was why some Christians were not too eager to seek the Grail because of its association with the cauldron and the Goddess.
Lao Tzu said:’ The usefulness of a pot comes from its empitness’. Pots are formed with empty space to be filled; they are symbolic shrines of thirst and longing for fullness or completeness.
Pot of plenty
In many ways the symbol of the cauldron has taken on the mythical concept of the ‘loaves and fishes’ parable of the bible.
The Celts perceived the cauldron as a powerful icon of abundance; it belonged to their Druid God Dagda and it represented the universal cup running over, leaving none unsatisfied. In ancient Ireland, it was believed, cauldrons were never depleted of food during feasts.
This cauldron of plenty belonged to the ‘Lord of Great knowledge’ so it not only held enough to feed all mankind bodily, but also knowledge of all arts and sciences. The cauldron was thus, the pagan symbol of limitless knowledge, as it was also revered amongst other ancient cultures.
Pot of transformation
The cauldron also has strong alchemic associations as the receptive vessel used by alchemists in their evolutionary ministrations.
It became a source of inspiration and magical powers and it is in the cauldron that the witches, alchemists and wizards of legend created their life-enhancing philtres and potions and curious concoctions for transformation.
According to the I Ching, the cauldron was also a symbol of good fortune and prosperity, replicating the idea of the cauldron of plenty. Inner alchemy (Nei Tan) uses the human body as the three legged cauldron in which the elixir of immortality is brewed.
The cauldron corresponds to the trigram k’uen Earth, the passive principle, the receptacle, at one and the same time the 'field of cinnabar' (hia tant’ien) and the foundation of alchemical symbolism (ELIF, GRAD, GRAP, KALL, KALT, LECC, LIOT)
Lao Tzu said, 'The usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness.' Pots are formed with empty space to be filled; they are symbolic shrines of thirst and longing for fullness or completeness.
Womb of the Great Mother
The cauldron is a symbol of transmutation, germination, and transformation, but it also universally symbolises the womb, and therefore, is a Goddess symbol as well.
Here we see the divine feminine again, the symbolic container and what is hidden away as demonstrated in Celtic lore where the cauldron is the representation of the Underworld. In Greek and Roman mythology the cauldron was hidden in a cave.
The belief that the cauldron symbolises the womb of the Great Goddess arises from the concept that everything is born out of it and returns to it.
The original cauldrons before metal was discovered would have been gourds, wooden vessels, or large shells.
Eventually the symbolism of metal cauldrons became linked to the hearth and home because they were used to cook meals.
This latter aspect merged the Great Goddess with the Great Mother, as the cauldron combined them into a single deity.
Pot of Rebirth
Some of the most famous cauldrons are found in Celtic lore, for example, the cauldron of Bran the Blessed that conferred rebirth. In ancient times they were used for human sacrifice, which was related to death and rebirth.
Cauldrons are recurrent elements in Greek myths of initiation; boiling in a cauldron was a magical rite designed to confer upon whoever submitted to the ordeal, a variety of faculties, first and foremost being immortality.
The symbol of the cauldron to both Tibetan and Siberian shamans was not only a visionary journey into death, but a prolonged trial of metaphysical dismemberment, being boiled, dissolved and transformed into an illuminated state of unity with cosmic consciousness.
Other Greek legends illustrate passing into the cauldron as a sort of trial of passage to determine the divine nature of the person so subjected.
Magic cauldrons with symbolism closely related to that of the mortar, play important parts in Uralo-Altaic tribal myth and epic and in those of all shamanistic Asia. Many heroes, some real and some legendary, were named Kazan (Cauldron).
Tinderbox cauldron of abundance
So next time you see the Tinderbox cauldron, you can cast aside any lingering
‘Hubble bubble toil and trouble’ syndrome and know that we hold this special container in the high esteem that is its due.
Indeed, we really know the value of brewing up huge amounts of nature’s plant extracts, in a large pot and converting them into something eminently useful, potent, fragrant, inspiring and transformative.